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               My First Day in American Sign Language

     Upon registering for my first semester of high school, I was  
excited to learn I could take American Sign Language to fulfill
my foreign language requirement. I had always enjoyed the
study of other languages, and just the thought of learning the
visual language by studying the language of the deaf community
intrigued me. I was excited for this opportunity to grow, which
was likely to be both challenging, and rewarding.
     The first day of class was one of the most interesting and  
backward experiences I have had in my entire life. As I walked
into the classroom, the teacher, Ms. Higgins, smiled and pointed
at a banner over the door which read, “No voices beyond this
point.” I looked at her incredulously. I couldn’t imagine how I
was going to make it through the next 90 minutes without
speaking or being spoken to. I took my seat and glanced around
at my classmates who all looked as nervous as I felt.
     As the bell rang, the teacher walked to the front of the  
classroom and pointed to a poster. Each letter of the alphabet
was listed with a handshape pictured below it. She slowly,
patiently, showed us how to shape our hands into each
individual letter. It was more complicated than I expected as
I realized that even a slight difference in the direction my palm
was facing or where my thumb was positioned can change the
meaning entirely. After all of us practiced the letters a few times,
the teacher spelled out her name. She then walked to the boy
sitting next to me and signed her introduction. I realized she
wanted him to sign his name to her. I could tell he was nervous
and a little embarrassed, but he smiled and mouthed “okay”
before he slowly signed his name. The teacher smiled and
showed us how to sign, “Nice to meet you.” During the rest of
our class time, we each introduced ourselves in American Sign
     Eventually, the bell rang—seemingly louder than usual—  
alerting us that class was over. As I left the classroom, my ears
were bombarded with sound from every direction. [A] After
sitting in silence for an hour and a half and depending solely on
my eyes to receive information everything sounded heavy on my
ears. Then I wondered if there was anything I could do to
counteract this noise. Luckily, a solution popped into my head.
[B] As I walked to my math class, I hummed to myself to drown
out the cacophony surrounding me. [C] When I found my class,
I chose a desk on the front row and turned to see if I saw any
friends. Not seeing anyone I knew, I made eye contact with the
student next to me, and when she smiled, I said that “Hi, I’m
Mandy.” [D] The girl looked to a man standing nearby, and he
raised his hand and communicated in sign to her. The girl smiled
and looked back at me and signed something quickly. The man
next to me said, “Hi, my name’s Kristin.” I’m sure I sat there
entirely too long before I realized that Kristin was deaf and
communicating through an interpreter. Soon, though, I smiled
and raised my hand to my new friend and signed, “Nice to meet